As usual, I’ve done a lot of production and season design in past six months— some really exciting stuff. So this is the first glimpse behind the curtain at the work I’ve created for the 2012/13 theatre season.
One of the first shows I worked on was Edward Albee’s Seascape, part of the season design for Remy Bumppo Theatre Company. I’ve been designing for Remy for several years now, and I love the challenge of doing something new while maintaining their consistent branding. This year, I wanted to stick with the iconic imagery like I’ve created in the past, but move into something just a little more complicated and dirtier. Cuz often time, intellectual theatre is a lot messier than their clean design from years past conveys.
Seascape is a great example of this. It’s a play about a retired couple pondering their place in life at their age who encounter a pair of anthropomorphic lizards with very different ideas of relationships. It’s a show that is too often made into something simply whimsical instead of being funny, challenging, and dramatic all at the same time.
Based on an initial company-wide brainstorming session, I started by sketching whatever ideas came to mind. I was seeking to show mankind and lizard-kind as two sides of the same coin, essentially. This led to the sketches you see here on the right, playing with mirror compositions and DaVinci’s vitruvian man.
But as I continued to research the show, I stumbled upon a write-up that referred to the play structure as “Escher-like.” In the play, an airplane occasionally flies overhead, prompting the characters to repeat the same handful of lines each time and thus kind of resetting the action. This sense of always leading back to the same place was compared in the article to a picture by M.C. Escher in which a waterfall feeds itself. So I began toying with Escher-like imagery in relation to men and lizards and how they could be connected, perhaps through an interlocking pattern. At right you can see a small handful of the many attempts I made at finding a workable man/lizard transformation pattern. The farther I pursued this idea though, the more I realized it was too complicated for what I needed.
And then I had one of those serendipitous moments that artists love: while sketching some lizard heads, it occurred to me that a simple line drawing of a lizard head could also double as an image of a beach. One image acting as two subjects— a very Escher-like idea without needing to refer to his artwork. I presented this idea along with a number of others (the image below shows a collection of some of the many options I experimented with for all three shows in the season). The lizard/beach images was the clear winner in my talks with the company, so that’s what I went forward with.
To bring this idea to fruition, I went back to one of my earlier lizard drawings that I quite liked. I took that sketch and dropped it into Illustrator and replicated some of the linework using the pencil tool and my Wacom tablet as a starting place. Based on some photos I found online of lizards, my sketches with the blue of the sky and blue-green of the sea fit perfectly. Also, putting the airplane in the middle of the sun and turning it into a lizard eye seemed the perfect call back to my earlier Escher inspiration. The nostrils became a subtle hint using a crescent moon, the striping became clouds, and the texture on the lower jaw became the waves in the water.
When I presented my first draft to the company, they still liked this concept, but thought the colors scheme was a bit bland and could be more effective. Someone suggested turning the sky orange, which would make the lizard more tropical and exotic-— a fantastic suggestion. Turning the sky into a sunset added more color variety, and the gradient from orange to red added depth to the sky.
I wanted each of the shows in the season to have a textured feel, so each design is overlayed with a paper texture. In this case, the brown of the paper texture helped turn the negative space into sand and a rock wall. This was actually echoed nicely in the show’s set design, which you can glimpse in the background of the production photo here. In fact, I was thrilled with how much the set design, consciously or not, echoed the imagery of the poster.
Below, you can see some of the many permutations that this image has gone through since the poster was created, including large display posters and print ads. For some of the larger ads and posters, I had to extend the image horizontally, but I always tried to maintain the ambiguity of the subject.
So that’s the brainstorming process that took me from a simple list of themes and subjects of the show Seascape to a final production image. Next week, I hope to give you a behind-the-scenes look at a very different kind of image, so stay tuned…